US health authorities announced on Friday that they were investigating 109 cases of unexplained hepatitis in children in the United States, including five deaths. These cases of severe liver inflammation are also raising concerns in Europe, where many cases have also been detected, and scientists around the world are working to understand the cause. In the United States, cases have been identified in 25 states and territories, and affected children have a median age of just 2 years, said an official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during a a press conference.
Because of their young age, the children concerned were for the most part not eligible to be vaccinated against Covid-19. “Vaccination against Covid-19 is not the cause” of this disease, hammered Jay Butler, deputy director in charge of infectious diseases for the CDC, saying he wanted to put an end to rumors circulating on the Internet. He clarified that the Covid-19 infection itself was not however ruled out as a potential cause.
A role of Covid-19 not ruled out
However, the CDC favors the track of a certain type of adenovirus, viruses that are fairly common but which were not previously known to cause cases of hepatitis in healthy children. It has been confirmed that more than half of the children affected in the United States had tested positive for the so-called “type 41” adenovirus, which until now was better known for causing gastroenteritis. This adenovirus has also been detected in many affected children outside the United States.
One of the hypotheses is that the reaction to this adenovirus may be disrupted by another factor, such as infection with Covid-19 or environmental factors, for example contact with animals or a toxin. “Investigators here and around the world are working hard to determine the cause,” said Jay Butler.
14% of children had to undergo a liver transplant
Parents are encouraged to monitor any symptoms in their children (vomiting, dark urine, pale stools, jaundice, etc.), and to contact their doctor if they have concerns. “We know that this news can be worrying, especially for parents of young children. It is important to remember that this severe hepatitis is rare,” wanted to reassure Jay Butler.
He said that the number of pediatric emergency room visits for hepatitis was not currently abnormally high in the United States, unlike the United Kingdom, where 163 cases have been identified. If 90% of American children had to be hospitalized, and 14% to undergo a liver transplant, in the majority of cases, they were then cured.